Guilty As Charged

By Mark Shields

September 29, 2018 4 min read

Not for the first time, the criticism reads: "Why don't you admit it, Shields? You reflexively like politicians." It's true. I do like most people who dare to run for political office.

For me and most people I know, our lives are a succession of unpublicized setbacks and occasional wins. If you and I were the two finalists for the same promotion at Acme Gismo Co. and you were chosen, our local media, when announcing your new honor, most likely wouldn't add something like this: "Shields was reportedly passed over because of unresolved questions about his expense account and rumors concerning his erratic behavior at the company Christmas party."

The political candidate is different. Her fate is front-page news. Shortly after 8 o'clock on election night, the candidate will experience the ecstasy of victory or the agony of defeat. Everyone whom the candidate ever double-dated with, carpooled with or sat next to in high school study hall will know whether he won or, much likelier, lost. Every political candidate knowingly risks the sort of public rejection that most of us will go to almost any length to avoid.

Which brings us to the case of retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who, in both spoken and published words, has opposed the intentionally polarizing politics he has seen practiced by President Donald Trump. Vowing not to be "complicit" in "exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves (and) glorifying in the things that divide us," Flake guaranteed the president's wrath and his ridicule.

With his vote to back the embattled Supreme Court nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Flake first saluted the "compelling testimony" of professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, but then gave the nominee "a presumption of innocence ... absent corroborating evidence" and his support. Was this the moment for Flake to follow the example of his late Arizona colleague and friend John McCain, who, with Flake's support, formed the bipartisan Gang of Eight, which crafted a compromise immigration reform bill that actually passed the Senate?

Well, Flake later insisted that any confirmation vote on Kavanaugh be postponed for one full week so that the FBI can interview everyone associated with the alleged assault on Ford — most essentially Kavanaugh's close personal friend and high school classmate Mark Judge, who Ford has testified was not only an eyewitness but also physically a key part of that evening. And the GOP leaders in the Senate reluctantly agreed to the delay.

By his leadership, Flake has saved the Senate, his party, the Supreme Court and Judge Kavanaugh from the damage of a rushed, strong-armed Senate vote. Today, 27 years after Anita Hill's testimony, Justice Clarence Thomas still sits under a cloud of controversy.

So why do I like Jeff Flake so much? Fifteen years ago, when he was in the House, some leading conservative givers, upset with incumbent McCain's opposition to President George W. Bush's tax cuts, encouraged, with pledges of major financial support, an interested Flake to challenge McCain in the Republican Senate primary. Flake decided against making the race, and I asked him why. His answer was both refreshing and disarming: "I'd love to be in the Senate, but quite frankly, I could not beat John McCain." The polls had shown that McCain would be too tough in a GOP primary. There was none of the usual baloney about "I want to spend more time with my family" or "I'm really enjoying my work in the House." That's when I first liked Jeff Flake, whom I'll miss.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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